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Attracting, Expanding and Managing FDI in a Disruptive World

By smoothing the transition for foreign entities moving operations and resources into the United States and by effectively aligning the needs of industries and resources within a community, an economic development organization can inspire foreign companies to call its local community home.

Q2 2019
Partner Brian Smith and Senior Manager Carter Wood, both with Ernst & Young LLP, spoke with Area Development about foreign direct investment in the U.S. after their presentation, “Attracting, Expanding and Managing FDI in a Disruptive World,” at our Miami Consultants Forum. This article was based on an interview conducted by Margy Sweeney, Founder and CEO, Akrete, Inc. and Area Development Editorial Board member.
The past four years have been a tale of two halves for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the United States. After seeing record-level activity in 2015 and 2016, the United States saw a steep decline in FDI in both 2017 and 2018 thanks to mounting geopolitical tensions with China, looming U.S. tax reform and general supply chain reconfiguration. But as these global head winds potentially die down and the dust finally settles, conditions seem right for FDI to pick up where it left off in 2016.

The reasons are clear. The United States, with its growing population, offers the largest consumer market in the world; boasts a prestigious supply of universities and higher education institutions, providing significant, sustainable streams of talent and labor; and enjoys positive economic conditions, including low corporate tax rates and manageable regulations.

The opportunity is there. But the million-dollar — or, in some cases, billion-dollar! — question is how successful economic development organizations (EDOs) will grasp this opportunity and make their communities stand out against the competition.

Smooth the transition
Just as companies and other organizations typically have welcome committees and HR systems in place to ease the transition for individuals moving from one place to another, EDOs must essentially serve as welcome committees for foreign companies looking to plant roots in their communities. Successful EDOs will do everything in their power to incentivize investment and smooth the transition for foreign entities investing in and moving operations to the United States.

These tactics and strategies can take many forms, but prime examples include:
  • Bringing labor stateside: More often than not, foreign companies investing in the United States will bring their best and brightest talent stateside. EDOs face a tremendous challenge and opportunity to ease the burden of bringing immigrants to the United States through visa programs. Knowledgeable EDOs are willing to provide visa assistance and do everything in their community’s power to welcome top talent in a timely manner. Some states and communities have even developed concierge programs to assist foreign nationals in their relocation to the U.S. These concierges help with everything from obtaining a driver’s license to arranging community familiarization tours.
  • Language assistance programs: Savvy EDOs create language learning centers and other transitional educational programs aimed at helping foreign workers learn English and become accustomed to American life. At best, EDOs are community liaisons that ease burdens and help smooth the incredibly difficult and often bumpy transition for foreign companies and their employees moving stateside. Communities that prove they can provide a streamlined process and experience for companies may improve their chances of attracting foreign direct investment.
Align job needs with available labor and talent pools
The United States is home to some of the best universities, higher education institutions and labor forces in the world, but many of its industries face a labor shortage. Amid incredibly low unemployment and a dearth of available skilled workers, EDOs in the country that can align a community’s resources with the needs of foreign investment hold the biggest key to attracting top foreign companies and investment dollars.

For example, the United States’ Southeast region has seen a huge boost in investment from foreign automotive companies, thanks in large part to its labor force, business climate and geographic location, which together create a perfect alignment with the industry’s requirements. Successful EDOs have a deep, detailed and nuanced understanding of the abilities, resources and needs of their communities, which they shape to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of targeted businesses and industries.

Moving forward
After two years rife with uncertainty and indecision, conditions are allowing for states, local communities and EDOs to seize this tremendous opportunity and identify the areas where they can provide value for foreign companies looking for a suitable U.S. home. By smoothing the transition for foreign entities moving operations and resources into the United States and by effectively aligning the needs of industries with a community’s resources, an EDO can inspire foreign companies to call its community home.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Ernst & Young LLP or any other member firm of the global EY organization.This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as accounting, tax, or other professional advice. Please refer to your advisors for specific advice.

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